Prominent NH Republicans want debate open to all candidates
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- More than 50 prominent Republicans in New Hampshire want Fox News to change the format of its Aug. 6 presidential debate so every candidate can participate.
For the first scheduled GOP debate, host Fox plans to restrict it to the top 10 candidates, based on polling averages from the five most recent national public opinion surveys. But the field could approach 20 candidates, posing logistical challenges as TV networks and the party decide how the debates should unfold.
In a letter to the heads of Fox News and the Republican National Committee, the New Hampshire group suggests that Fox split the debate into two panels. Three of the top six candidates would be on one panel, and the other top three contenders would be on the second one. The remaining contenders would be assigned randomly to a panel.
The group suggests broadcasting the two panels back to back or on consecutive nights.
New Hampshire hosts the first presidential primary contest, and the letter says the responsibility to "closely examine and winnow the field of candidates" belongs to voters in the early primary and caucus states. "It is not in the electorate's interest to have TV debate criteria supplant this solemn duty," the letter says.
Steve Duprey, chairman of the national Republican Party's debate committee, said the ideas outlined in the letter were discussed earlier with networks holding the debates. The party cannot tell networks how to run the debates but has suggested they look at early state polling to determine who is on stage, he said.
"There is no perfect solution," said Duprey, a New Hampshire Republican. He said the RNC has suggested that news outlets provide other means for candidates who don't make the cut to get airtime.
While the RNC has been working closely with networks in recent months, the networks are free to organize the debates as they wish.
For example, the second GOP presidential debate, set to be hosted by CNN in September, will divide its event into two parts. One will have the 10 highest polling candidates. The other will have remaining candidates who register at 1 percent, at minimum, in public polling.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus did not address the two-panel format suggested for the Fox debate when he responded to a question about it. He said only: "We are very pleased that both CNN and Fox will give all candidates over one percent significant exposure."
Although the Fox debate is bound to exclude some candidates drawing over 1 percent, the network has indicated it would give airtime of some sort to candidates who don't make the top 10.
The New Hampshire Republicans who want everyone in say that relying on early polling to determine debate participants will give an unfair advantage to candidates who are better known or have raised more money.
The first televised debate of the 2016 campaign should place all candidates on an even footing and let them make their case directly to voters and viewers, according to the letter, signed by 56 Republicans. They include two former governors, nine state senators and a number of former RNC delegates and state party leaders.
So far, 11 major candidates are running for the Republican nomination and decisions are coming from more. Altogether, 12 GOP presidential debates are planned from August to March.
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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